Pentax K-1 Review

Video Mode

The Pentax K-1 is designed first and foremost as a camera for still photography.  It does pack a discreet video mode, though, and that video mode happens to be the most capable that Pentax has launched to date, even if it's by a small margin.

A small switch below the settings dial will put the camera in video mode, which instantly activates live view and provides access to video-specific settings.

Switch to access video mode

Basic Video Specifications

The K-1 saves .MOV video files in the H.264 codec.  There are no other supported formats, nor is there a video quality setting in the camera.  Clips are limited to 4GB in filesize (about 25 minutes at maximum resolution).

Audio can be recorded through the built-in stereo microphone at a sampling rate of 48 kHz, or through an external stereo microphone.  The K-1 also has a headphone jack that allows you to hear what the microphone hears and listen to your videos in playback mode.  Since the on-board microphone picks up button presses and AF sounds, we recommend using an external microphone or external sound recorder for all videos.  For directional recording, we've had success with the Rode VideoMic Pro, which comes on a shock-absorbing mount.

The K-1 supports 24p, 25p, 30p, 50i and 60i video recording at Full HD resolution (1920x1080), and 50p and 60p recording at HD resolution (1280x720).  Strangely, slower frame rates are not available in 720p mode.  Although these specifications are not cutting-edge, they are more or less consistent with what is available in comparable Canon and Nikon full-frame DSLRs.  For example, the Canon 5D III and 5DS are also limited to 1080/30p (no 60i), while the Nikon D810 can record at 1080/60p.  These competing bodies do have the advantage of being able to stream raw video, which the K-1 cannot.

Control Panel and Settings

The INFO button provides access to a video-specific Control Panel which almost fully mirrors the settings found to the main menu.  In-camera processing options during video recording include shadow/highlight corrections, digital filter effects, sound levels, and wind suppression. 

There are also options to configure the autofocus type while not recording, turn on focus peaking, and select the card slot to which videos are saved.  Unlike in stills mode, video mode does permit the user to specify the exact SD slot that will be used.

Pentax K-1 Screenshot

Pentax K-1 Screenshot

Exposure Modes

Exposure can be automatic (P mode), semi-automatic (aperture priority/Av, shutter priority/Tv, or aperture+shutter priority/TAv), or fully manual (M).  The ISO can also be controlled (between 100 and 12,800), albeit only in M mode. Outside of M mode, the camera does not report the ISO to the user.

Exposure settings can be adjusted both prior to and during recording.    All exposure modes support an exposure compensation up to +/-2EV.

While the P, Av, TAv and M modes were available on previous Pentax models (such as the K-3, K-S2, and 645Z), it looks like shutter priority (Tv) video is new to the Pentax K-1. 

On the K-1, the main mode dial also controls the exposure mode for videos.  We find this to be a very convenient interface design, as it saves the user from having to enter the main menu or Control Panel, thus allowing for quicker adjustments.  If a mode dial setting other than P, Av, Tv, TAv, or M is selected, the camera will still enter P mode. 

Video Crop

In video mode, the K-1 applies a small crop to the frame beyond the crop necessitated by the 16:9 aspect ratio.  This is done to improve the effectiveness of stabilization. The image below depicts the video recording area:

In red: the sensor area that records video

Focusing

The K-1's focusing options while not recording are rather robust.  In addition to supporting focus peaking and image magnification, all CDAF modes are available for speedy and accurate focusing. 

Focus Peaking On Focus Peaking Off

During recording, all of this goes away— including the focus peaking and the ability to zoom in.  These facilities are replaced by a simple and slow on-demand contrast detect AF option which is activated at the press of the AF button.  The on-demand focusing during recording does work for accurately setting the focus (it analyzes the entire scene), but it's nowhere near quick enough to lock on to moving subjects in time.  Thus, manual focusing is the best solution— and lenses with quick-shift make casual video shooting the easiest, as they allow for manual adjustments while still permitting the camera to operate the AF.

Cine Lenses

Few cine lenses exist for Pentax.  Those available from Samyang are listed as "special order" and we have yet to see them   However, a simple DIY declicking trick can essentially turn any manual Pentax lens into a pseudo-cine lens— an excellent solutions for users who wish to shoot video with Pentax DSLRs.

Video Quality

While we've never been fond of the video quality offered by other recent Pentax DSLRs—even the 645Z— to our surprise, the K-1 has proved to be a noticeable improvement.

The first thing we noticed is that when shooting at the same settings, the K-1's out-of-camera video files contain more shadow detail and thus more dynamic range than those from the K-3.  Note that our comparisons were performed without shadow and highlight correction to make the video as "pure" as possible.

K-1 Video Frame
K-3 Video Frame

Both of these frames were captured with the FA* 300mm lens.  Since the field of view is wider on the K-1, we've cropped the result and up-sampled it to match the size of the K-3 frame.  Click on the links to see the full-size frames from the K-1 and K-3

The K-3 does show more detail thanks to the crop factor and higher sensor resolution, but perhaps not as much more as one would expect. Also, while the K-1's video showed more accurate colors, this is most likely because the nearly-full-frame field of view provided the metering system with more of the scene to work with.

Regardless, another way to confirm the improvement in video quality is to compare a still image with a video frame extraction.  And we did exactly that.  Use the slider below or view the full-size 1920x1080 still (JPEG 2M) and the full HD video frame.

From Still
From Video

While the level of detail and dynamic range in the video frame is lower than in the still photo, the difference is not as significant as we've seen in the past, and we see this as a very welcome improvement.  Refer to the video page of our Pentax K-3 review for more background information.

Shake Reduction

Since 2012, no Pentax DSLR has offered sensor-shift (mechanical) stabilization in video mode.  This trend continues with the K-1.  When enabled, video stabilization is purely electronic and results in the infamous "jello effect", but otherwise works well.

Sample clip with SR off:

Sample clip with SR on:

Better video stabilization is only possible through a handful of Sigma lenses that have in-lens stabilization (OS).  Through interviews, Pentax engineers have stated that sensor-shift SR is not enabled on recent cameras due to the noise it causes.  Interestingly, we haven't found this noise to be excessive on the K-1 in any other mode.

Out-of-camera Sample Clip

The following is an unaltered 1080/30p .MOV file straight out of camera, shot with the D FA 24-70mm lens at F8 in Av mode.

Video not playing?  Download the .MOV file here.

Verdict

For a camera mainly designed for stills, the K-1 fares very well in video mode.  Its video capabilities are useful in a pinch and we suspect that the camera may even see limited professional use. We're happy to see that improvements have been made (image quality, Tv mode) and that Pentax is not neglecting video support, despite the extensive development effort that other aspects of the K-1 required.

We could mention things like the lack of mechanical SR, 4K support or proper focusing options, but such features should realistically be expected within a different market segment.


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